John Milton Cage Jr. (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) was a composer, music theorist, writer, and artist from the USA.
He was a pioneer of "indeterminacy" in music, as well as "electroacoustic" music, plus non-standard use of musical instruments.
This genius was one of the leading figures of post-war Avant-Garde styles.
Critics have credited him as being possibly the most influential American composer of the 20th century. He was also highly instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with the choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage's romantic partner for most of their lives.
As a composer, he is probably better known for his 1952 composition "4′33″, which is performed with the deliberate absence of sound, musicians who present this work do nothing aside from being present for the time duration specified by the title. The content of the composition is not "four minutes and 33 seconds of silence," as is sometimes assumed, but rather the sounds of the environment heard by the audience during performance. The work's challenge to assumed definitions about musicianship and musical experience made it a popular and controversial topic both in musicology.
Cage was also a pioneer of the prepared piano (a piano with its sound altered by objects placed between or on its strings or hammers), for which he wrote numerous dance-related works and a few concert pieces. The best known of these is Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48).
His teachers included Henry Cowell (1933) and Arnold Schoenberg (1933–35), both known for their radical innovations in music, but Cage's major influences lay in various East and South Asian cultures. Through his studies of Indian philosophy and Zen Buddhism in the late 1940s, Cage came to the idea of aleatoric or chance-controlled music, which he started composing in 1951. The I Ching, an ancient Chinese classic text on changing events, became Cage's standard composition tool for the rest of his life. In a 1957 lecture, Experimental Music, he described music as "a purposeless play" which is "an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we're living".